What changes with Matthew Stafford under center for the Rams offense?
Potentially, quite a bit.
That's not suggesting a complete philosophical overhaul, to be clear. But his movement traits and ability to escape pressure, at a minimum, will allow Rams head coach Sean McVay to create the explosive plays that are a priority for the Rams offense this year, according to ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen.
"I think they're getting a much different player than Jared Goff," said Bowen, who contributes to ESPN's NFL Matchup strategy and tactics breakdown show, during a recent phone interview with theRams.com. "Jared Goff is a rhythm and timing thrower that fit very well in Sean McVay's system. And Matthew Stafford will do that as well. Matthew Stafford can throw with timing, rhythm and location. The difference is, you're getting more traits at the quarterback position."
Here's a closer look at Stafford's skillset, and his potential influence on scheme and personnel, from Bowen's perspective.
As noted in five things to know about the Rams' new signal-caller, Stafford isn't shy about airing it out, ranking among the top 10 in two metrics recorded by the NFL's Next Gen Stats that measure the distance a ball is thrown downfield. He also has a career double-digit yards per completion average across his 12 NFL seasons.
The film also backs that up.
According to Bowen's evaluation, Stafford has "high-level arm talent" that allows him to attack all levels of the field. It also allows him to throw from multiple platforms, meaning Stafford can "escape, extend, drop down and use his high-end arm talent to throw from unstable platforms."
"And that's important in today's NFL," Bowen said. "I think you have to have those movement traits, that ability to use that arm talent from multiple platforms, and Stafford has that. He'll be able to run boot in Sean McVay's system. But more importantly, he'll be able to – I use the term escape and extend, when things go south, which happens a lot of times in the NFL, when that pocket starts to get muddy, when that pocket starts to break down, Matthew Stafford has that ability to get out of trouble and still make the throw. He brings much more second-reaction ability to the Rams offense. The ability to play outside of structure and create as a thrower when necessary."
Stafford will also bring a physical element to the offense with his well-documented toughness, according to Bowen. He will take hits in the pocket and pull the ball down to escape and extend plays, whether in the redzone or moving the sticks.
Scheme and personnel impact
The Rams will still have the timing and rhythm throws that are a staple of McVay's offense, Bowen explained, but he can also see the Rams offense "having a much more vertical element to it" to take advantage of Stafford's skillset.
"What I mean by that is, they'll be able to attack vertically off of post routes and deep corners off of play-action," Bowen said. "So you're still running the same concepts, but you're adapting to fit the traits of your quarterback."
On vertical routes alone last year, Stafford completed 46 of 96 pass attempts for 1,190 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception, per research compiled using Next Gen Stats data. For context, Stafford completed 339 of 528 pass attempts for 4,084 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, which means that nearly 30 percent of his passing yards and nearly 40 percent of his touchdowns came on vertical throws.
While Stafford is comfortable making those types of throws, he should also be able to execute the basic principles of the Rams offensive scheme with ease.
Bowen said that in the McVay system, the core concepts are a lot of movement, a lot of misdirection and a lot of play action to not only occupy and grab the eyes of defenders, but also to create open-window throws.
The quarterback still has to anticipate where that window will be, but throwing with the necessary timing and rhythm and hitting those second-level windows are things Stafford has done throughout his career.
Per Next Gen Stats, Stafford completed 42 percent of his tight-window throws – defined by Next Gen Stats as pass attempts "when the separation between the receiver and nearest defender is less than 1 yard at pass arrival" – last year, good for sixth-highest among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 30 pass attempts.
"You can throw the deep end-breakers, you can throw the quick-glance, you can throw the skinny post," Bowen said. "When they run flood concepts – three receivers to one side of the field – Matthew Stafford can attack those windows. Stafford, because of that high-end arm talent, can make the tighter-window throws."
Besides the scheme, Stafford's arrival will likely also influence personnel decisions on his side of the ball.
Given those traits, Bowen said he could see the Rams going out and adding a true vertical threat wide receiver – meaning a receiver with speed who can run the top of the vertical route tree – through free agency or late in the draft, though he knows that decision is ultimately up to the Rams front office. Rams general manager Les Snead said during a March 10 video conference that doing so is something the team has discussed.
Bowen could also see the Rams scheming more vertical throws this year – throws that are off of play action or max protection.